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Ambient Picnic 2010

Keith Parkins | 29.06.2010 14:38 | Free Spaces

I did not think the Ambient Green Picnic could get worse than last year. I was sadly proved wrong.

Celebrating Surrey Festival at Loseley Park
Celebrating Surrey Festival at Loseley Park

The Ambient Green Picnic in Guildford was once a fantastic free festival, well worth attending. And attend they did, down from London, up from Brighton. Then the last few years has seen a sorry decline, entrance fee for what was a free festival, security fencing, over-the-top heavy-handed security, smelly burger vans, local brewery beer tent, too commercialised. Last year was an unmitigated disaster, a small fenced-off corner of Shalford Park. It lacked atmosphere. The festival had lost its way, if not its soul, necessitating a complete rethink.

This is what the festival has to say on its website:

--- quote ---

In 2009 The Picnic Festival was held at our home site on Shalford Park, Guildford. Now in 2010 we are joining up with our partners within the 'Celebrate Surrey Festival' for 2 days on Losely Park, in our home town Guildford. Losely Park is much larger than Shalford Park, with ample free parking.

The Ambient Picnic will bring the best parts of the festival you know and love, plus experience a far greater cultural experience with 5 stages of music and performance. Get involved with participatorary arts workshops over the two festival days!

We are proud to see the long awaited return of The Ambient Lounge, the festival hub. A complete audio visual experience with mad décor, sofas and walls of television sets.

--- end quote ---

Economical with the truth if not downright deceitful!

The festival had not outgrown its site, it had been artificially constrained to one small corner of Shalford Park. This year it was part of Celebrating Surrey. It was necessary to book tickets in advance, else be forced to pay more on the day. Loseley Park (where the ice cream comes from), may be worth visiting, but it is out of the way unless you have a car. This has lost sight of the fact that this was a green festival, easily accessible on foot or by cycle, use of a car was discouraged, now they are promoting the fact there is ample free parking! This is an outdoor festival. Do we really want walls of TV sets? What had been good about the festival was not the music, which was too often rubbish, but the whole alternative culture thing, which no doubt was its downfall, as alternative culture never does endear one to the authorities.

It is part of a general trend, authorities clamping down on free festivals. It is ok to run a big commercial festival generating loads of rubbish, loads of dosh, but not a free festival offering alternative culture, that is an anathema to authorities.

Last year the Big Green Gathering was killed off before it got underway. This Mayday Bank Holiday an over-the-top police raid shut down UK Teknival.

There has though been exceptions, the most noticeable being Climate Camp on Blackheath Common last summer.

There are still free or almost free festivals taking place, sadly the Ambient Green Picnic is not one of them.

Loseley Park, or at least the house, is an Elizabethan Manor House built from stone looted from the ruins of Waverley Abbey. It is where the somewhat overrated and overpriced Loseley ice cream come from. It is located half way between Compton and Guildford, just south of the North Downs Way, and if you are going there on foot, that is the best way, along the North Downs Way, then drop down to Loseley Park.

Which is the way I walked. Along the River Wey, then instead of crossing the wooden footbridge to Shalford Park, up a little path by a stream and along the North Downs Way. The stream is a little chalk spring, very refreshing to drink from. Quite a trek with temperature hitting if not exceeding 30C!

Quite a trek, though a pleasant trek. It took me not far short of two hours.

Was it worth it? The short answer is no. At least not for the Ambient Picnic.

What I found on arrival was a large field, brass bands playing, some good some not so good, lacemaking etc. I thought I had stumbled upon a festival run by the local Womens Institute (though no jam), nothing wrong with that and I am not knocking it, but it was not the Ambient Picnic.

Celebrating Surrey is a county-wide celebration of the best in art, music, culture, food and drink. The two-day Celebrating Surrey Festival at Loseley Park, of which the Ambient Picnic was part, was a craft fayre cum arts festival. Whilst nothing wrong with promoting what the county has to offer, indeed it is to be welcomed, it was not what the Ambient Green Picnic was about. A 'green' event which needed a car to get there! It was supposed to be a 'green' event, but the only thing I saw that was 'green', was bins for recycling.

The Ambient Picnic was confined to a small edge of the field. Eden People were there and I was pleased to see them, but where were all the stalls? At least Eden People were 'green'. Their free drinks were in bio-degradable cups.

I did not think the Ambient Picnic could get any worse than least year, but sadly I was proven wrong, this was far far worse.

After the disastrous Picnic last year, it should have been a time for reflection, the opportunity to get back to grassroots, instead they chose to sell out.

Ambient Green Picnic was part of the Guildford Summer Festival running from 18 June to 1 August 2010.

Also see

Picnic Festival 2009

Keith Parkins


Hide the following 3 comments

Some context

14.09.2010 12:40

Hi Indymedia,

I'd just like to give a slightly better informed and less reactionary view of what happened to the Ambient Picnic. If there was any "deceit involved, it was from Guildford council, not the Ambient crew. If we are talking about deceit, Keith seems intent on deliberately confusing the event he reviewed with the Ambient Picnic. I fail to see what benefit this misinformation has for green events, and it is clear the author has done no proper research into what he is reporting. I will attempt to untangle some of the confusion he has created....

The Picnic had been pressured out of Guildford a few years back by funding cuts and pressure from the council, who wanted the term "Ambient" to be dropped from the title as it has "drug taking connotations" according to their councilors (dont get me started) . It set up in Epsom in 2008, whose council welcomed it with open arms, but the publicity wasn't up to it and being so far away from it's home, the numbers weren't there. it lost a lot of money and that, along with a warehouse fire, was why 2009 was scaled back, not because it had been "artificially constrained".

2010 was not going to happen, as it's organiser was to be married. The council, after spending countless hours battling it's own local grassroots festival, suddenly decided to put on it's own festival, "Celebrating Surrey". They approached the organiser to provide a few tents, he had no say whatsoever over the awful format and infrastructure of the rest of the festival. It was agreed because without the Ambient represented, as the author agrees, there would have been no trace of green values whatsoever.

The Council-appointed organisers were worse than useless and created an abysmal event, at which the Ambient picnic team had one stage/tent, a bar, commissioned the Eden people's area, ran celebratory arts workshops, and coordinated the parade. that's it. Oh, they also supplied bio-diesel and solar power for the entire site, thus drastically reducing the CO2 emissions for the site. but the author is clearly too lazy to find any real details about this event. To somehow blame the entire event on the Ambient crew is about as fair as picking on a single stall holder.

I understand the Authors frustration, but to publicly slander one set of organisers for the actions of a borough council is utterly counter-productive

The Ambient Picnic as an event in it's own right will be returning to its original site for 2011 for a massive relaunch. One thing Keith got right was that it is time to get back to grass roots. I would suggest that instead of writing smear-pieces about what little alternative culture Surrey has left, he might consider volunteering to help his local community event. In case you're wondering, that is how i know what actually happened to the event. Next year i will be helping to coordinate volunteers, and i am looking into new tents, such a science and arts area. we could use all the help we can get.

I am really disappointed to see such sloppy, negative journalism coming from a source i usually have a lot of respect for, and i look forward to a response from either Indymedia or Keith Parkins.

Peace and Love,

Austin Mallon

Austin Mallon
mail e-mail:

no misinformation

14.08.2012 22:22

I do sometimes wonder do people read what has been written, do they fail to comprehend, or do they deliberately misunderstand what has been written (thus more deceit)?

I quoted verbatim what had been written by Ambient Picnic, then compared it with reality.

There was not a problem with space at Shalford Park, the area available had been artificially constrained with steel fencing. Losely Park was a long way away. I walked, a two hour walk.

There was nothing wrong with the Celebrating Surrey Festival per se. But it was not the Ambient Picnic. The Ambient Picnic was constrained to the edge of the field.

I was well aware that it was the Guildford Council killing the festival and have said so. I also mentioned this was a problem across the country with authorities killing off free festivals.

Which begs the question why was nothing done to inform the festival goers of the problems being caused by the Council, of who to lobby?

I was aware of where the problem lay (and reported as such), but most festival goers were not aware.

It is true I was not aware of how the power for the site was being generated. But then why would I be aware when there was no information on the subject freely available?

Bio-diesel is anything but a green fuel.

Ambient Picnic 2011, Ambient Picnic 2012, I and others must have blinked and missed it as we were not aware, certainly not in the programme for the Guildford Summer Festival.

Last Saturday I spoke with Craig, one of the main organisers of the Ambient Picnic. He was adamant no festival took place, and that it had been killed off by Guildford Council.

The good news is Staycation Live 2012 which took place in Godalming last Saturday. A free all-day music festival by the River Wey in Godalming. Unlike Guildford Council which killed off an excellent free festival run by volunteers, Godalming Town Council hosted and promoted one. Godalming Town Council are to congratulated for their vision.